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Tracking H2S —

By Staff | Feb 9, 2010

Russ Muhlbauer, of Manure Safety Solutions, in Stanhope, holds a wireless hydrogen sulfide sensor in one hand, and the wireless monitor in the other. The other apparatus on the table is the same system with cables. The system is designed to alert manure pumping operators if the deadly gas has backed up into a confinement building during manure pump out.

STANHOPE – Following the loss of his father’s 300 head of finishing pigs to hydrogen sulfide poisoning during a manure pumping operation in 2004, Ross Muhlbauer sought to do something to avoid this problem.

Armed with stats concerning the number of hogs and human deaths that occur from H2S exposure, Muhlbauer went to war against the potentially lethal occurrence of H2S build up in confinement buildings during pump out activities.

When a manure slurry is agitated for pump out, explained Muhlbauer, it is the only time the slurry material is disturbed. Therefore, the trapped H2S can literally burst its deadly fumes back into buildings. It’s what happened five years ago, when Muhlbauer’s father lost his finishing pigs.

H2S poisoning is blamed on the deaths of 24 Midwest swine operation employees from 1983 to 1990. Since 1994, there have been 15 others, all during manure pump out. The number of swine deaths during the same periods number in the thousands.

While earning his ag and biosystems engineering degree at Iowa State University, Muhlbauer directed a research project in how to monitor and manage the H2S build-up while manure was being pumped.

The results of his work has now culminated with an invention of his own design, called SwineSafe, which Muhlbauer, who was reared on a swine and row crop farm in Manning, had on display last week at the Iowa Pork Congress in Des Moines.

SwineSafe, Muhlbauer said, is an H2S detection system. It features remote sensors inside the building, attached to a monitor outside the building near the manure pumper. There is also a wireless version of the system. Muhlbauer said that commercial pumpers would mostly likely use his device, but private operations that pump their own manure would find the system essential to their overall safety protocols.

The advantage, Muhlbauer said, is that the system will alert workers to H2S build-up dangers so they can take corrective measures without re-entering the building.

“In fact,” Muhlbauer added, “a larger producer might opt to have the sensors full time in his buildings. The sensors would be compatible with the monitor used by the pumper.”

SwineSafe will sound an alarm for the manure pumper if the H2S levels get too high inside the building, so the slurry agitator can be shutdown. SwineSafe can also be rigged, Muhlbauer said, to automatically shut down the agitator, or initiate some other form of increased ventilation.

“We’re devoted to the development of manure management technology and practices to increase safety and efficiency,” Muhlbauer said.

He said he based his SwineSafe system on other commercial H2S sensing devices used by the petroleum industry.

SwineSafe Mobile, which has the sensors and monitor connected through cables, can be moved from room-to-room and to different locations.

SwineSafe Wireless performs all the same functions, only wirelessly. It can also communicate with upward to 64 sensors.

Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, ext. 453, or by e-mail at kersh@farm-news.com.

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